Fighting a dementia diagnosis

Nearly 10 million people are diagnosed with dementia every year. That translates to one person every three seconds. Thanks to an aging population, the number of people living with dementia worldwide is set to triple by 2050. Astonishingly, there is no known cure and no comprehensive treatment plan. 

That’s where a fledgling Colorado nonprofit, Alumia Institute, sees an opportunity. 

What if people with a dementia diagnosis could turn to a place that promotes healthy aging? One that not only focuses on strengthening the mind, but also factors in a balanced diet, music, art and heart health? In other words, what if the medical community could offer a multifaceted approach to a dementia diagnosis?  

Armed with a big assist from a team of DU professors, the visionaries behind Englewood-based Alumia created just such a program. 

Convinced that many dementia patients can slow the progression of cognitive decline or even improve their condition through activities that stimulate the brain and nourish the body, Alumia offers a variety of day programs. They include mind games, workout sessions, music therapy and art classes, all in a space that encourages peer socialization. An in-house chef prepares meals based on the MIND diet, which has been found to improve brain health. 

DU’s multidisciplinary Knoebel Institute for Healthy Aging (KIHA) is a key partner for Alumia. The two organizations worked together closely to launch this one-of-a-kind program. KIHA researchers Kim Gorgens, from the Graduate School of Professional Psychology (GSPP), and Dan Linseman, from the Department of Biological Sciences, joined with GSPP professor Laura Meyer to share their expertise on the content of Alumia’s assessments, which new members complete when joining the program. These assessments help caregivers evaluate everything from cognitive skills to mental health on a monthly basis, along with quarterly assessments.

Alumia shares the deidentified data with the DU team on a rolling basis to track the impact of the program. So far, DU researchers are seeing signs of reduced depression and anxiety, improved nutritional status and cognitive improvements. 

“Alumia is groundbreaking. Programs that are committed to applying science with an equally strong commitment to generating scientific research make for an ideal academic-community collaboration,” says Gorgens, who is also a board member and research advisor for Alumia. “These kinds of living-learning laboratories are rare and offer faculty and students the benefit of translational research opportunities and the chance to deliver care to an underserved population with unique behavioral health care needs.” 

Chip Watson was Alumia’s first director and helped launch the program and partnership with DU. He says the collaboration with DU qualifies as one of the most important things Alumia does.

“[Alumia’s] partnership with DU provides us with valuable support and insights from amazing academic professionals who can support our mission,” Watson says. 

Alumia is specifically looking at how to help caregivers with their stress during caregiving and how to help members maintain their cognitive health longer.  

Watson says Alumia strives to create an environment where members feel OK to be who they are, disease and all.

“Dementia is a disease of loss; loss of cognitive abilities, loss of memories, loss of independence, loss of relationships … and when we can give them things back instead of taking things away, that is a win every day,” Watson says. “We are there for them on the good days, and maybe even more importantly, we are there for them on the not-so-good days, and we can support them and hopefully make those days a little bit better and know that tomorrow brings us all something new.”

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